- I would give this book an award. It tells how the israelis had advance knowledge of the 1983 Beirut bombing and did NOT warn the Americans in advance (1983 suicide bombing attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon where 241 Marine personnel were killed was planned by the Israeli military intelligence the Mossad…The death of the 250 Marines serving in Lebanon has been blamed on the Arabs. )
- A critical, impressively researched history of US-Israeli relations
- Pack with vital information…on a subject that most mainstream journalists won’t touch!
- Without question, “Dangerous Liason” is the most comprehensive book summarizing U. S. – Israeli relations from 1948 – 1990. In fact, it is THE book many other authors refer to when writing about future CIA – Mossad operations. It is a “must read” for anyone really interested in knowing our true relationship with Israel.
BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Andrew Cockburn, co-author of “Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship,” what’s the premise of your book?
ANDREW COCKBURN, CO-AUTHOR OF “DANGEROUS LIAISON: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE U.S.-ISRAELI COVERT RELATIONSHIP”: The premise is that there’s a side to the relationship between the U.S. and Israel which goes much beyond just the sentimental links and the links forged by supporters of Israel in this country.
What we say, what we explain is that there has been since almost the earliest days of the Israeli state and the earliest days of the CIA a secret bond, a secret link between them, basically by which the Israelis — the Israeli intelligence — did jobs for the CIA and for the rest of American intelligence.
You can’t understand what’s been going on around the world with American covert operations and the Israeli covert operations until you understand that the two countries have this secret arrangement.
LAMB: Leslie Cockburn, what was the most interesting part of writing this book?
LESLIE COCKBURN, CO-AUTHOR OF “DANGEROUS LIAISON: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE U.S.-ISRAELI COVERT RELATIONSHIP”: There are a number of things. For example, one particular part which I found most interesting was we talk about Israeli operations in Colombia and some of the Israeli commandos who trained the hit squads of the Medellin cartel. It turns out that they had trained us in Israel as well when they were between trips to Colombia.
These were the same people who also trained most of the top commanders in the Guatemalan military and also trained the Contras.
They had a firm that was under license to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and then they’d turn up in the jungles of Puerto Boyac in Colombia. So, we had a lot of adventures, I must say.
LAMB: Did the Israelis cooperate with you at all on this book?
A. COCKBURN: Well, we never made an official approach to the Israeli government or Mossad or anything like that, but we managed to get in the end to talk to all the people we wanted to talk to in Israel. We talked to people like, for instance, David Kimche who had a long Mossad career.
He eventually rose to be deputy head of Mossad, the Israeli secret intelligence agency — the equivalent of the CIA. I remember a wonderful evening we had in his home, in his study, where he was talking in guarded fashion about his career in intelligence. He then went on to be director general of their foreign ministry.
But I certainly noticed around the walls of his study where we were sitting, it was like a history of Israeli covert operations because, for instance, on one wall there were the most beautiful wood carvings, African wood sculptures.
I said, “Oh, they’re lovely, David. Where did you get those?” “Oh, a present from [Sese-Seko] Mobutu in Zaire.” “Oh, that one’s nice. Where did that come from?” “[Jean-Bedel] Bokassa of the Central African Empire.” Then on another wall beautiful Persian miniatures. “Where did they come from?” “Oh, a present from the Shah for something we did for him.”
So, there was this man sitting, this master spook, surrounded by mementos of his career. And so, we talked to him. We spent a lot of time talking — well, there’s a street in Tel Aviv, an avenue called Shaul Hamalekh, which is right across the street from what’s called the Kirya, which is the Ministry of Defense compound. It’s a huge area in the middle of Tel Aviv.
On the other side of Shaul Hamalekh is a row of very fancy high-rises which is basically the headquarters of the Israeli military-industrial complex — I mean, that area is, so you have offices of all the major arms dealers, the offices of the Israeli representatives of the major American defense corporations.
You have Mossad headquarters. Just down one side street you have a very beautiful building which is the headquarters of a man called Shaul Eisenberg, which not many people in the outside world know about, but he’s certainly the richest and probably the most powerful man in Israel. He’s the master arms dealer.
He’s behind a lot of political campaigns, behind a lot of politicians. Again, very much involved in this secret world of arms deals and covert operations that we talk about as the link with America.
LAMB: There were two American names early in the book — Al Schwimmer and Hank Greenspun.
A. COCKBURN: Al Schwimmer is, again, a fascinating character. He, right at the very birth of Israel — his real name is Adolph Schwimmer, but everyone calls him Al — was basically an arms smuggler for Israel. He was flying in arms during their war of independence from all over the place.
He was originally a TWA flight engineer, in fact, but also a brilliant pilot. So, for example, he was flying arms from Prague because in the early days of Israel, in fact, most of their arms or among their most important single arms supplier was the Communist government in Czechoslovakia, and Schwimmer was part of that.
He went on to found Israel Aircraft Industries, in the meantime still sort of flying arms, doing covert arms deals around the world. Then years later, his energy still undiminished, he was right at the heart of the Iran-Contra business. He was absolutely central at one point to the covert shipments of arms to Iran.
Hank Greenspun was another fascinating guy. He was a U.S. Army veteran at the end of World War II. He had just moved to Las Vegas to set up a radio station when Al Schwimmer suddenly knocked on the door. He didn’t know him — introduced by a mutual friend — and said, “Hey, drop everything.
I want you to come with us and we’re going down to Mexico. We need you to go and vet some arms that we’ve gotten hold of that we’re buying illegally, in fact. We need to get to Palestine.”
So, Greenspun says, “Oh, OK,” drops everything and becomes an arms smuggler, briefly. He disappears from his house for six months, comes back, can’t tell his wife where he’s been and he’s been in Mexico bribing officials. Then he goes back to Las Vegas.
He later became very famous as the publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, an early opponent of Joe McCarthy, fought Howard Hughes and, interestingly enough, he was the conduit for many years until the campaign finance laws got tightened up.
If candidates, especially Democratic candidates, needed cash in a hurry, Hank Greenspun in Las Vegas was the man to see because in Las Vegas, of course, there’s a lot of cash around.
And if you are in dire straits — for instance, Jimmy Carter was saved at a crucial moment of his candidacy in 1976 during the Pennsylvania primary when Hank Greenspun came out with $60,000. So we have characters go all the way through.
L. COCKBURN: One point about doing this kind of story about covert operations with U.S. and Israel is that because Israel is such a young country, some of these people who were there are the very beginning, who were making the deals in the ’50s, are still alive.
We went to see Isser Harel, who is really a towering figure in covert operations.
He was chief of Mossad at a crucial time in the ’50s when this secret relationship we’re talking about was just getting going.
There was a deal made in 1951. Ben-Gurion came to Washington and offered the CIA the services of Israeli intelligence.
LAMB: Who was Ben-Gurion?
L. COCKBURN: Ben-Gurion is the father of Israel.
A. COCKBURN: He was prime minister for many years. He really steered the state to independence, steered his people to independence, wrote the Israeli declaration of independence, was prime minister all the way through, with a brief interval, until 1963. The Israel you see today is really the creation of David Ben-Gurion.
LAMB: Originally from what country?
A. COCKBURN: He was originally from what’s now Poland but was then Russia, a part of the territory that’s changed hands.
LAMB: Let me go back to Leslie Cockburn and ask her who your favorite character was in your book.
LAMB: What do you think of Israeli people from what you’ve learned over the years in being close to them?
L. COCKBURN: Both of us love working in Israel. I’ve been going back every year — not every year — but have made numerous trips to Israel since 1980- 1981. Israelis are very interesting people, also.
The fact is, Israelis love to talk and tend to be, at least in this business — in the arms business and in intelligence — fairly gregarious, and also they have a lot of feuds with each other, very strong personalities. It’s a very interesting group of people to work with.
LAMB: Are they tough? Are they effective? Do you like them?
A. COCKBURN: Yes, really, I’ve got to say I do. They’re very tough. They have an engaging cynicism about them. I did. How could you not like it — this may sound bizarre — but for example, we were talking to an executive — this was some years back — an executive of Israel Aircraft Industries, which is the huge Israeli defense aerospace.
It’s the biggest business in Israel, in fact — biggest single firm. This was a time — this was the early ’80s — when there’d been a row, a big argument, here in Washington because the United States had wanted to sell F-15 fighters to Saudi Arabia.
The Israeli lobby here had kicked up a huge fuss saying, “You shouldn’t be selling these planes, but if you must, you shouldn’t can’t sell them with the extra fuel tanks that will enable them to reach Israel and bomb Israel should the Saudis get that idea.”
So the Carter administration had agreed that the F-15s would not have the extra fuel tanks.
A few years later we were talking to this gentleman from Israel Aircraft Industries who said, “Do you remember those fuel tanks that weren’t allowed to go to Saudi Arabia?” We said, “Yes.” And he said, “Do you remember how that ban got dropped?” which it had by that point.
I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you know where those fuel tanks get made?” I said, “Where?” He said, “Tel Aviv. We make them.” So, he was delighted. He thought that was a great joke and great business coup that his firm was making the fuel tanks which would, theoretically at least, allow Saudi Arabia to bomb Israel.
L. COCKBURN: For example, we got to know quite well a man who we refer to in the book as “the Colonel,” who is an American intelligence official working in Israel, spying on Israel, spying on the Israelis. Of course, the Israelis knew he was doing it. He knew they knew he was doing it.
When he got to the end of his term in Israel, the chief of Israeli military intelligence threw him a big going-away party and said, “We like you. You’re more Israeli than the Israelis. Now get out of here and don’t come back.” So, it’s such an interesting interplay between these people.
LAMB: You tell a story early in the book — you know, I’ve never heard anyone pronounce his full name so I don’t even know if this is right — James Jesus Angleton — or do they call him Jesus [pronounces Hesus]?
A. COCKBURN: Although it should be Jesus [Hesus] because that was in recognition of the Mexican half of his family, everyone always pronounced it Jesus.
LAMB: You tell an early story about a monument to him near Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust. Explain that story.
A. COCKBURN: Right. Well, if you’re going on the outskirts of Jerusalem on the western side at least, you have Yad Vashem, which is the very moving memorial to the Holocaust.
If you take the road past there out of town, you down the hill and you wind through a pretty village and eventually come to what’s called the Jerusalem Forest, which is full of memorial groves, if you like, to people who get honored in this way — war heros or simply people who have been killed in war or people recognized by the state of Israel.
We were driving through this one day, and the reason we were doing this was we were looking for the memorial grove, memorial forest, to James Jesus Angleton. Angleton was a CIA man, a senior CIA official, very famous for a number of reasons but he was of interest to us because he was the link for many years between the CIA and the Mossad.
The Israelis had all said to us, his old intelligence friends had said, “Oh, yes, we love Jim and Jim was a good friend to Israel and we liked Jim a lot. In fact, after he died” — which was in 1987 — “we created a memorial forest for him. It’s out there. I suppose it’s a bit hard to find.
You might not want to look for it, but I can tell you that it’s there.” So, we thought we would go and take a look. We drove out, and there were all these nice groves with nice plaques carved in stone to various people, and we can’t find the Angleton memorial.
Eventually we decided to give up, thinking we had taken the wrong direction or something. We were looking for a place to turn and there is an open space, or it looks like an open space, and we drive up, but it isn’t. It’s basically a garbage dump with a few stunted, dying little trees poking up and a plaque actually on plastic screwed to the stone to James Jesus Angleton.
So this was the memorial forest. It’s kind of hard to explain, but in a way it was an Israeli joke. It was, “Look, we’re supposed to like you a lot. We’re supposed to owe you a lot, but we don’t owe anyone anything, so here’s what we really think of you,” and it’s a garbage dump.
LAMB: Mr. Angleton is dead?
A. COCKBURN: He is dead but not forgotten.
LAMB: Isn’t there a new book just out about him?
A. COCKBURN: Yes, but it doesn’t really go into the Israeli side, which is what interests us. Angleton did a number of things. He’s been most written about because he was head of CIA counter-intelligence and got obsessed about a Soviet mole in the CIA.
Although that may be the most publicized role he had, he did other things, too, and his most important job really — and this is the role that the agency has always been very keen to obscure.
In fact, the prevented one former colleague of his in the agency from writing a book about him because they said, “Oh, my God, if he writes that book, he’ll talk about this particular job,” which was Angleton’s role as a liaison with foreign intelligence services, including the Israelis — particularly the Israelis, in fact.
This was an absolutely key role. There’s a lot of bodies buried there. What Angleton was able to do were things the CIA couldn’t do or didn’t want to be seen doing or wanted to do in this country, in which it’s legally precluded from doing.
As liaison, Angleton could go to his buddies in foreign intelligence services, and particularly the Israelis, and say, “Help us out.” Angleton was really the point man for the connection that we explain in the book.
LAMB: What would happen if all American aid to Israel was stopped and the Israelis had to shut down their arms business? What would happen to that country?
L. COCKBURN: It would be a disaster.
L. COCKBURN: Because the arms business is the engine that drives the economy of Israel. It’s the biggest export. At this point it’s such a huge part of the economy that they have to continue shipping arms, which is one reason why you get a situation where they’re shipping all over the world, and particularly unattractive situations like shipping to South Africa.
So it’s all driven by money, by the desperate need to keep this business going.
People will say to you, “Well, we had to go into the arms business in a big way because we wanted to become self-sufficient because there’s always the possibility of a next war.”
But, in fact, because they’re very military-aid dependent on the U.S., what’s happened is that they’re more and more dependent on American components, on American research and development and hardly self-sufficient.
A. COCKBURN: There is another element to that which is they have this huge arms industry that they have to keep going and is the major provider of employment in the country, especially of well-paying jobs. Their market, as wars are tailing off around the world, they see as their principal future growth market the Pentagon here.
They’re becoming, or trying to be, in fact, more dependent on getting more business out of the U.S. military, which certainly doesn’t make them self-sufficient. If your economy depends on selling stuff to the Pentagon or tending that way, then that makes that connection even greater.
L. COCKBURN: But there’s also on the intelligence side of things — when I say their need for this military industry is desperate, you have a whole intelligence branch that was set up called LAKAM to get high-tech military technology around the world by any means, and that includes stealing it.
So you’ve had a lot of cases over the years of LAKAM operations, including in this country, going around to different companies and getting a hold of the blueprints and carting away boxes to bring back to Tel Aviv, because they have to say ahead of the curve.
LAMB: Do the Israelis lie to the public?
L. COCKBURN: In talking about this kind of stuff — covert operations, national security subjects — there is censorship in Israel. So a lot of these things can’t even be discussed. We talk about in the book the Israeli nuclear program and break some ground on this.
We talk about the Israeli chain of command, that it takes the prime minister, the head of Mossad and the defense minister to make the decision to push the nuclear button.
LAMB: Is this the nuclear facility at Dimona?
L. COCKBURN: That’s correct.
LAMB: Is that the only nuclear facility they have?
L. COCKBURN: It’s an enormous nuclear facility. But what we’ve discovered . . .
LAMB: Did you try to go there?
L. COCKBURN: Oh, I’ve been to Dimona, yes.
L. COCKBURN: No, no, no. That’s very difficult.
LAMB: Where is it?
L. COCKBURN: It’s down in the Negev. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, and what happens is when you go to Dimona, if you happen to stop the car and take a picture of it or film it or whatever, you’re out of there very quickly. One defense intelligence agency friend of ours said that he had more flat tires in front of Dimona than anywhere else in Israel.
But what we also have discovered was that Israel not only has nuclear weapons, but sophisticated tactical nuclear weapons just like we do. Remember the American Army used to have nuclear land mines, for example, all over Germany.
Well, the Israelis, we’ve discovered, have nuclear land mines seated on the Golan Heights and at one point Ariel Sharon, who is, of course, famous for the invasion of Lebanon and whatnot, went to [Menachem] Begin and said, “Look, you’re busy,” and had a terrible relationship at the time with the chief of Mossad.
He wanted to take over sole control of the nuclear button, and Begin, fortunately, said no. But this kind of thing — I mean this is why the Israelis have gone wild for the book and they’ve serialized it in Ma’ariv and written about it in Ha’aretz because they can’t talk about this sort of stuff unless it’s been printed abroad before.
LAMB: Ma’ariv and Ha’aretz are what?
L. COCKBURN: They’re two very large Israeli papers. Ha’aretz is the kind of New York Times of Israel and Ma’ariv is the conservative paper.
LAMB: You point out in your book that one of the things you did differently with this book is you’ve had a lot of translations of a lot of Hebrew in Israeli newspapers. Why?
A. COCKBURN: Because there’s an amazing amount of information that appears in Hebrew — the Israelis feel comfortable about this because if it’s in Hebrew it’s like it’s among themselves — that doesn’t get translated into English. They are very conscious of the feeling that Hebrew is like a code.
Not many people outside Israel actually speak it. So if you can say something in Hebrew, it’s almost like saying it in secret. We discovered that, for instance, the Hebrew press in Israel is very, very good, and there are a lot of good journalists.
There are very good newspapers. An amazing amount of information that never finds its way into the dispatches of foreign correspondents from Israel, very few of whom actually speak Hebrew, nor does it appear in the English-language Israeli papers like the Jerusalem Post.
Someone said to us, “Do you know what the function of the Jerusalem Post is?” We said, “What?” He said, “It’s to give the American ambassador a happy breakfast.” So they’re very conscious of, “Hebrew is for us and English is for everyone else.”
We also found with books and also some diaries and documents there was a treasure trove. The Israelis, of course, are good at keeping secrets. It’s not like they spill everything out and they have to have a freedom of information. But there is still a wealth of detail and information and color and a lot of what you need to know to understand the connection we’re talking about in Hebrew.
LAMB: How did you get it translated? Was it expensive?
A. COCKBURN: Yes, but we thought it was worth the investment.
LAMB: Can you give us an example of something that you learned that was in Hebrew that we never saw in English?
A. COCKBURN: Sure. The ’67 war, for example. The people’s general view of the 1967 war was all the Arabs sort of ganged up on Israel and may have even attacked Israel and the Israelis fought them off and won the great victory which got them the West Bank that people are arguing about today.
In fact, let me give you a quick background. Let me put it this way: We found a book of memoirs written by a guy who was the military aide to the then-prime minister of Israel.
It was a guy called Israel Lior. He gives an account in this book which has never been translated into English.
It’s available only in Hebrew; in fact, wasn’t even a bestseller there. He gives an account how on June 3, 1967 — two days before the war broke out — he was at the home of the prime minister and they were waiting for the head of Mossad to come back from Washington.
The head of Mossad had been sent to Washington to get permission, to get the green light, to launch the war. He explains, “We knew we could win” — he’s explained already in the book — ” The generals were hot to go.
They weren’t really scared of the Egyptians or anyone else, but they wanted to go ahead with this and the prime minister had been saying, ‘No, we can’t do it. We can’t attack until we have American permission.'”
He gives this very vivid description of how Meir Amit, the head of Mossad, comes back into the room at midnight. The high command is sitting around, and this being an Israeli meeting the air is thick with cigarette smoke.
Amit walks back in and they say, “Well, what is it? Is it war or no war? Will they let us go?” Amit says, “Well, I’ve been given to understand, the Americans have told me that they will bless us if we crush Nassar, and that’s it.”
They started the war on Monday morning. He’d been to Washington and he’d seen Richard Helms, the head of the CIA, and a very few other very senior officials, also including, certainly, James Jesus Angleton, and they got permission to do it.
So that was something that had never been in English. Once you’ve read that, you understand that things are a bit different from the kind of histories you read in English.
L. COCKBURN: Well, look, whenever you’re looking into this kind of stuff, whenever you spend your life collecting frequent flyer miles to go to places like Cali, Colombia, and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand, and when you’re actually going out and finding out stuff, the world doesn’t fit into a neat little package.
It’s always a little different from what people expect it to ge. So, of course, it’s always controversial. The truth is controversial.
A. COCKBURN: People have trouble sometimes making Leslie out. We were talking to a master Israeli arms dealer called Shapik Shapiro who looks the part, too. He wears very expensive dark glasses and silk shirts and smokes big cigars.
We were sitting talking to him in his very elegant office opposite the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, and Leslie was explaining what she’d been doing. We were talking like we’re talking now and Leslie was saying, “Oh, I’ve done this and done that,” and Shapik took a cigar out of his mouth and said, “Oh, I see. You’re a spy.”
L. COCKBURN: It’s happened more than once. But there was another, again a master Israeli intelligence operative who we were with in Manhattan. It was late at night. We were in a hotel room grilling this guy for information and he turned to us and he said, “You’re SHABAK,” which is domestic Israeli intelligence. It’s as I say, it’s always more confusing than it seems.
A. COCKBURN: On the question of being trailed in Israel, Israel — if you’re not Palestinian, at least — is quite an easy country to get into. On the way out is when they talk to you. As in most airports, they want to do a security check and see that you haven’t got a bomb in your baggage.
But they also there give you a prolonged interrogation as to where you’ve been, want to see your hotel room, want to know who you’ve talked to.
As international flights tend to leave Israel at 4 o’clock in the morning, you’ve gotten up at 2 a.m. or not gone to bed or you’re groggy and then to be interrogated as to everyone you’ve talked to in the last month can be quite a trying experience.
LAMB: You tell the story about a group from Philadelphia — Jews, I believe — making the pilgrimage to Israel, and then you also at one point talk about one of you or the other or maybe both of you together were with Arik [Ariel] Sharon…
L. COCKBURN: I was.
LAMB: . . . traveling near the green line, the West Bank. What I’m getting at here is there was some cynicism coming through all this about what the Israelis do about American Jews coming to Israel on the pilgrimage.
Who wants to tell that? And the Golan Heights trip and Mr. [Yitzhak] Rabin coming in with his helicopter and landing and all that, if I remember it correctly.
L. COCKBURN: Yes, there is cynicism, and it’s very interesting because, frankly, you have a situation where American Jews come over and they’re donors.
I had the experience of being with a group of very big donors. We went up to a spot on the West Bank overlooking what’s called the coastal plain.
I was with Ariel Sharon, and he was making the point to them of how dangerous it was to give up the West Bank because, of course, then you could have missiles flying in from Jordan that could hit Tel Aviv or whatever.
Anyway, he gave a very good demonstration. He had the charts. Everyone was listening. Then they all got back up on the bus, and he turned to me and he said, “Don’t you love it here? Isn’t it a beautiful spot for a summer house?”